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Getting crews on and off ships and airplanes

“Crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely,” warned the world’s largest maritime and air transport organizations.

Government travel restrictions have made it difficult for ship and aircraft operators to bring on board and disembark crews. [Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves]

The three largest global organizations representing the workforces of the maritime and air transport industries have asked their government members to ensure the continued cross-border movement of these “key workers” to and from their jobs.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a flurry of government bans on international travel, which has obstructed necessary crew changes to keep the world’s maritime and aircraft fleet, as well as at ports and logistics hubs, in operation and goods flowing.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), one of the signatories to the May 26 statement, highlighted that more than 80% of global trade moves by ocean transport, which is managed by about two million seafarers.

The IMO said starting in mid-June an estimated 150,000 seafarers a month will require international flights either to their home countries or to sign onto ships.

Government travel restrictions have delayed or grounded shipboard crew changes in recent months.

“For humanitarian reasons – and the need to comply with international safety and employment regulations – crew changes cannot be postponed indefinitely,” the groups’ statement said.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Labor Organization (ILO), which also signed the letter, said 887,000 aviation industry workers face similar travel and workplace restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three organizations asked governments worldwide to designate maritime and aviation personnel as “key workers” providing an “essential service,” regardless of their nationality when in jurisdiction.

This action would also include accepting official industry worker documentation and “appropriate exemptions from national travel-related, health-related or movement restrictions in order to facilitate their joining or leaving ships, aircraft, airports and cargo facilities.”

In addition, the organizations recommended that governments provide information to ships and aircraft, and their crews, on protective measures against the spread of COVID-19.

“The Joint IMO, ILO, ICAO statement is an important reminder of the need to keep all parts of the international transportation system functioning. It also points to the critical work that national governments must do in order to allow vessel crew changes,” John Butler, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based World Shipping Council told American Shipper.

“We have seafarers that have been on ships for too long, and we have seafarers at home that are eager to work,” he said. “There are safe ways to get crew from their homes to ships and vice versa, and we call on all national governments to put processes in place immediately to make that happen.”

Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.